Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an update on the data regarding U.S. deaths linked to the China-originated novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. The report included a portion on “comorbidities” and stated that of all the deaths attributed to COVID, a mere 6% of those deaths had COVID alone cited as the cause, noting, “For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death.”
Under a section subtitled “Comorbidities,” the CDC reported:
Table 3 shows the types of health conditions and contributing causes mentioned in conjunction with deaths involving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned. For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death. The number of deaths with each condition or cause is shown for all deaths and by age groups.
The shocking statistic went viral online. However, fact-checking sites and some epidemiologists have emphasized that there is more nuance to the CDC statistic, and they caution against it being cited or viewed in isolation. They do acknowledge, however, that the CDC update is not inaccurate.
For example, Axios offered its own “reality check” on the statistic: “While the cause of death listed as solely from the coronavirus occurred in 6% of cases in the U.S. from Feb. 1 to Aug. 22, this doesn’t mean that the virus was not a contributing factor or, indeed, the leading cause in the other 94%,” the outlet said. “The U.S. virus death toll would be much lower if this were the case.”
Axios highlighted that the CDC listed influenza and pneumonia, respiratory failure, hypertensive disease, diabetes, vascular and unspecified dementia, cardiac arrest, heart failure, renal failure, intentional and unintentional injury, poisoning and other adverse events, and other medical conditions as some of the “leading underlying medical conditions related to coronavirus deaths.”
Additionally, Dr. Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida, said that there is “nothing misleading in the CDC report itself” but stressed that the 6% statistic is often being taken “out of context.”
“This seems to be happening a lot nowadays,” Dr. Salemi said, according to ABC7 WWSB. “Someone can take one sentence that’s listed out of the entire report and take it out of context. There’s nothing misleading in the CDC report itself, but just the way that this catches on like wildfire on social media, it makes people take this out of context. It ultimately leaves people confused and upset.”
Offering clarity over the report, Salemi said what the “CDC’s update really means is that 94% of the people who died from the coronavirus had at least one other health condition, in addition to COVID-19, that could have contributed to their passing,” ABC7 WWSB reported.
“After infection, the virus might lead to something like sepsis which then leads to respiratory failure which then might even lead to a heart attack,” he said. “If the person ends up dying, those three things should be listed as contributing causes of death. It doesn’t mean that just because COVID-19 wasn’t the only cause of death that was listed, that COVID-19 wasn’t what lead to that death.”